sunclouds33 (sunclouds33) wrote in west_wing_fans,

Mad Men and The West Wing Season 2 Unpopular Opinions

Originally posted by sunclouds33 at Mad Men and The West Wing Season 2 Unpopular Opinions
For this post, I'm putting my Mad Men Season 2 and West Wing Season 2 unpopular opinions in the same post- but divided them with different cuts (with quotes thematic to the OPPOSITE show but both from S2 to amuse myself).

1. I think it was silly that Joey (at the instruction of Josh and Co.) polled on Jed's MS before Jed came out about his illness. I agree completely with Jed's political instincts here:

LEO: We've got to do it.
BARTLET: I'm coming clean, I'm doing it voluntarily. Anyone finds out, it's going to look like I did it because a poll told me to.
LEO: Then it'd be a good idea if nobody found out.
BARTLET: All right.

Really, Jed? You disappoint me for just lying down at such a dumb-ass come-back of Leo's. I know that most of the staff (Leo, Josh, Toby) wanted a poll- but Jed should have over-ridden his staff. Moreover, as they discussed in Manchester, once Jed really DID come clean, they all felt that polling on a governor of an industrial state was incomparable to the specificity of Jed Bartlet (with his former Walter Cronkite-esque trust from the public in his integrity) and his role as President of the United States coming out with MS. (And the optics that Jed comes off as everyone's favorite grandpa.)

2. I don't think Toby's deal with Ann Stark was THAT BIG A MISTAKE. There was a lot of logic to what he did. Given how intractable and uncooperative Republicans tend to be, I really get Toby's instinct that PERHAPS they'll be in a better negotiating frame of mind if they use the Bipartisan Breakfast as a platform to actually discuss important issues like the minimum wage. That's politics with a divided government- using the smallest advantage to try to claw a legitimate policy victory.

I do get CJ's image concern but ultimately, I'm on Toby's side in cutting the shit:

C.J.: We don't speak for the President on the steps of the Capitol, we don't need to be offered their microphone. It makes us look like less than what we are. In fact, it makes us look small!
TOBY: We're calling tax breaks tax reliefs, refusing to discuss raising the salary
of those living in poverty, arguing the seating arrangement and you think that's going to make us look small?

I really feel like CJ's concern is Washington echo-chamber nonsense. I think the average voter and probably even the average journalist wouldn't think to hard about why the press conference for this one silly, decorative event was held on the Capitol steps instead of at the White House. Maybe they'd gossip about it briefly on a morning show (lol, although Fox and Friends didn't exist back then- this would be a favorite topic!). However, I don't see it having legs to go beyond a news cycle- especially if Toby was right and a conversation about the minimum wage in the genial environment of FORCED!!!BIPARTISANSHIP!! actually led to a minimum wage increase.

Moreover, none of this even led to the political tempest-in-the-teapot. Toby basically did what EVERYONE on this show does when negotiating with congressional staff- he made a boisterous, confident comment about their strategy to try to nudge a legislative victory.

TOBY: Ann, we're not going to get screwed around on the wage hike.
ANN: No?
TOBY: We have the votes and you know it.
ANN: Well, having the votes doesn't matter that much if the leader decides there isn't going to be a vote.
TOBY: There is going to be a vote, straight up or down, and if there isn't, we'll offer the wage hike as an amendment on everything that moves.

Seriously, Josh Lyman blusters around even more and shows more of his cards at the legislative poker table on an average day. The problem was that Ann didn't practice the same discretion that most politicos did and leaked the comment to a reporter. However, it was only barely tangentially related to Toby's actual deal to hold the press conference at the Hill in exchange for a debate on the minimum wage in the program.

The only was it was possibly related came from CJ's choice- that she refused to diminish her standing by huddling out on the Hill so she sent her deputy. Yes, if CJ and her epic charm and command of bullshit and keen political instincts that made her instantly know that Ann Stark's boss being off the dais meant an encroaching tidal wave was there, she could have nipped it in the bud immediately. Perhaps or probably- but not definitely. However, I don't think CJ's choice that it would lower her standing to conduct a press conference on the Hill is SO obviously correct.

So yeah, I think people (and fandom) was too hard on Toby. Although, I do love the verbal artistry of Leo's "It was a breakfast. It was a damn photo opportunity. The year is one week old. The legislative session hasn't begun and we can't put a forkful of waffles in our mouth without coughing up the ball!" scolding.

3. However for opposite Toby-news, I disagree that he NEEDED to tell Donna about Jed's MS before anyone else on the assistant level, including Mrs. Landingham. And I disagree that Toby had to tell Donna because he knew Josh wouldn't.

I do think that post-Rosslyn, the senior staff and Jed and Abbey elevated Donna to a higher level of emotional, and thus, political importance because she was so movingly distraught about Josh's shooting and then, took charge of taking care of him (physically in The Midterms and emotionally/mentally in Noel) beyond a mere assistant-level. However, it was unlucky circumstances that made Donna stand-out as the Indispensable Assistant With the Most Special Relationship With Her Boss. And I think Toby thought Josh needed a Caretaker through these hard times more than the rest of the senior staff because of Noel.

However, IMO, Toby's whole choice to make a point of telling Donna first among the assistant staff was a raw emotional one but not necessary and frankly, a little condescending to Josh who seemed to be coping fine and certainly presumptuous, to start widening the circle of people who knew before Jed's go-ahead.

1. I love Freddy Rumson- but I don't think it was so unfair that SC fired him for drunkenly passing out and pissing his pants a few minutes before a client meeting to pitch a strategy (after a long history of alcoholism that was starting to really spiral in S2, although not as disastrously as in Six Month Leave). That *is* a pretty typical fireable offense. Of course, it's tragic because Freddy was an alcoholic, IMO probably contributed by the perfect storm of his heavy combat role in WWII along with SC's corporate culture of encouraging lots and lots of drinking in the office that inevitably creates the confusion on where's the line between being an excellent drinker (which fuels creative energy or accounts bonhomie) and pissing your pants.

IMO, the real problem is that being put on leave was understood as the equivalent being fired. Unpaid leave would be fine- if there was an understanding that Freddy could have another chance after he took some time and dried out. Which, I think Freddy deserved after his long career at SC, the fact that he was practically an institution there. However, that's a discretionary choice on the partners' part.

I think my main point here is, yes, Pete was slimy and mean in how he first reacted to Freddy's messy drunkenness ("It's *disgusting*") or how he opportunistically regarded his firing ("If it wasn't for me, you'd still be a junior copywriter. I refuse to feel bad. We're going to get raises.").

However, Pete really wasn't wrong to report to a supervisor that an employee passed out and pissed his pants because he over-imbibed at the workplace and thus, missed a pitch with clients who apparently flew out from Colorado on SC's dime to hear said pitch. SC tolerates drunkenness in the office, and even drunken inappropriate shenanigans, but it's never supposed to directly interfere with business.

There's really a pro/con duality here. Peggy's choice to not tell anyone and help Freddy cover the whole thing up was generous and kind, in contrast to Pete's assholic attitude. However, Pete acted like an honest professional by bringing this to Duck, while Peggy was unprofessional and completely out-maneuvered by keeping this on the DL and assuming Sal/Pete would keep it on the DL without any assurances from them of the kind (and in fact, Sal and Pete showing their lack of compassion and discretion through the entire incident).

Moreover, I think Don's choice to advocate for Freddy just keeping his job outright and shutting up all mean-spirited gossip about him instead of agreeing to put Freddy on leave but trying to get a return date promise out of Roger was half-canny reality and half-Don's issues. On one hand, Freddy's biggest asset is his longevity at the company and that he feels like an institution. After six months of not having Freddy around or paying him a salary, no one will be in a hurry to hire him back, even if SC was doing well in six months. Giving him the six month heave-ho IS throwing him away in that sense. However, Freddy had a bigger problem, that couldn't just be solved by doing absolutely nothing.

2. I don't exactly know if this is an UO- but I *love* Bobbie Barrett. I've read in a bunch of places that people got "mistress fatigue" with Don and found his love lives among the least interesting parts of the show and didn't care for most of his post S1-mistresses. REALLY DISAGREE! Don's love lives may be repulsive or disappointing or unflattering- but it's invariably interesting, in large part, because his mistresses are dynamic women with diverse personalities and backgrounds with their own clearly drawn emotional reasons to get into bed with him. Moreover while the acts of cheating and promiscuity are repetitive with Don, the relationships themselves aren't repetitive. He strikes up a different, ever-changing type of bond with each woman where Don's own screwy calculus on how THIS ONE is different is clearly articulated every time. I don't get mistress fatigue at all. Instead, my pattern is to find these women more and more interesting until I was actually disappointed that the relationship ended right when I felt like I bonded with the alleged "flavor of the year." Bobbie was a classic case. I liked Bobbie the more I learned about her- which was ironic because it's like Don liked her less and less as he learned more about her.

And in her own brash, abrasive way, I found Bobbie particularly sympathetic. Maybe this is head-canon but my impression was that Jimmy knew, condoned, and even encouraged Bobbie using her SEXUALITY </jenna> to further his career. He encouraged Bobbie to whore herself out, but then, resented her for doing that.

Jimmy: Thanks to you, I got everything I wanted...I got my relationship with Utz, my show, my money, I'm going to be an institution....You know what I like about you? Nothing. But it's okay. You got me everything I wanted. What did you get? Bobbie? Lots of people have had that."

Bobbie: We did it. We sold Grin and Barrett.
Don: Congratulations. You got an order?
Bobbie: No, but we're going to make a pilot. I remember that because Jimmy said, "Ask her. She's made every pilot in town.

Jimmy walked into Lu Tess, believing that Bobbie had enough power over Don that she could extort an apology for $25,000 with the bonus written into the contract while Jimmy killed time by ignoring the Utzes when he wasn't practically baiting them ("You do any jumping?") and flirting madly with Betty. Bobbie communicated with her eyes that he had to apologize for free- after she and Don played their game of sexual Russian Roulette. We don't know how the Barrett marriage began:

(a) whether Bobbie slept around to enrich herself and Jimmy and Jimmy bitterly accepted that their marriage was dirty and faithless
(b) whether Jimmy and Bobbie both agreed to have a marital and business partnership where Bobbie was supposed to do whatever AND WHOMEVER it took for Jimmy's career
(c) whether Jimmy pressured Bobbie to whore herself out and then, resented Bobbie for doing just that, especially once Jimmy became "fat and comfortable" as a comedian with stable work and a national profile

I think it was a mixture of (b) and (c). Bobbie felt control and pride in how Jimmy's career progressed. However, it WAS Jimmy's career and he's the one with everything to gain by becoming an institution and while Bobbie did enjoy being a wealthy, connected comedian's wife instead of a poor, failed comedian's wife, it's decidedly less fun to manage Jimmy's career and be the city bicycle for him while enduring public gatherings where he makes veiled comments calling her out for being a slut or outrageously flits with other women. And I bet most of the men that Bobbie slept with to advance Jimmy's career did not look like Don- which was why Bobbie was so OTT enthusiastic about their unions.

3. As a corollary to the above Bobbie-analysis, I think this exchange is misinterpreted.

Bobbie: [Don] is a decent man, isn't he? You wouldn't think he would be.
Peggy: I never expect him to be any other way than what he is.

Ironically, I don't think it's about Don at all or about how Peggy accepts Don or anything like that. I think Mad Men has a rare gift for offering up seemingly crucial lines of dialogue....that on further inspection, turn out to be just conversation place-holders, hot air, people trying to fill awkward spaces with chatter. This is one of my favorite examples of that.

At this point, Bobbie is still stuck at Peggy's apartment waiting for her bruises (gotten from the DUI extra-marital blow-job induced car crash with the "decent man" to fade- snerk). Bobbie and Peggy exhausted conversations about putting the sheets on the sofa and food and Marilyn Monroe...and Bobbie's curiosity on whether Don and Peggy were/are/would be romantically involved was killing her. So, that's some of the innocuous bait that Bobbie settled on to figure out what Don meant to Peggy without yet coming right out and ASKING Peggy but instead, trying to have a general conversation about their mutual important person and bringing up a loaded question on Don's character that would almost force his employee to engage on way or another.

Meanwhile, Peggy knew what Bobbie was on about and didn't want to engage. In fact, the transparent way that Bobbie was trying to extract information from Peggy made Peggy not want to engage both: (a) to keep up her privacy and boundaries as is her right and (b) because Bobbie was making it like an verbal chess game to bait Peggy into betraying feelings and it became a point of pride that Peggy didn't want to lose this conversational bridge-game.

So, Peggy responded with the most riddle-like answer that she could think of that says nothing. " I never expect him to be any other way than what he is." Even though (and I know I'll go more into depth when I cover later seasons because my UO on Don/Peggy partly inspired this project), Peggy has LOTS of expectations of and assumptions about Don that drive a number of her stories. Peggy never just takes Don as is- she toggles between idealized mentor/champion and demonized monstrous bane of her existence.
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